Today, let’s take a look at two parables in which Jesus conveyed his perspective from within God’s story. In each parable, Jesus helps us understand how people are inevitably taking their places within God’s story. He was conveying something of God’s expectations for his people.
These particular parables were chosen as representative samples of Jesus’ teaching because they frame his earthly ministry. Mark 4 is Jesus’ first parable and Luke 19 among his last. While they’re certainly unique from one another, it is easy to see that they also hold much in common –- much that we should take to heart.
Some things should get our attention right from the start. First, this is Jesus’ inaugural teaching in Mark. And when the Son of God comes to earth and decides to start teaching, we better listen up! Second, Jesus indicates that this parable is the “secret of the kingdom of God” (4:11). Again –- probably worth paying attention here. Finally, in case there’s anyone not yet clued in, Jesus continues, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (4:13).
Ok, Lord. We’re listening…
Parables were not intended to serve as systematic theologies. They don’t speak to any and every circumstance. But they drive home specific points very, VERY powerfully. Here’s how Jesus began his teaching ministry in Mark 4:
- There are many reasons that seeds don’t bear fruit. Most of them are predictable in the course of “normal” life.
- From God’s perspective, there are really only two kinds of seeds –- those that bear fruit and those that do not. And most do not.
- It’s the fruit bearing (or lack thereof) that truly defines us. Not hearing God’s word. Not good intentions. Not affection or sentimentality. Only fruit.
This is the teaching with which Jesus saw fit to inaugurate his ministry. And it appears from the other gospels (Matthew 13 & Luke 8) that Jesus told this same parable repeatedly. As he went around proclaiming and manifesting the good news of God’s kingdom, Jesus clearly wanted people to understand that they were already defining themselves before God based on the fruit they were (or weren’t) producing.
In this parable, Jesus still hasn’t gotten past the whole “kingdom” thing. He started there, and he stuck with it to the end.
Once again, the context of the passage is worth noting: Jesus and the disciples are heading to Jerusalem, and the disciples mistakenly assume that the kingdom is to appear immediately. Jesus tells the parable to warn them of the impending delay in his return and more importantly that they would define themselves in his eternal kingdom by the lives they lived as they awaited his return.
Then & now, there are 3 stereotypical responses to Jesus’ claim of Lordship over our lives:
- Outright opposition and defiance.
- Cautious, subtle denial.
- Whole-hearted embrace and obedient service.
Then & now, here’s the point…
Our place in Jesus’ eternal kingdom is determined by our response to him –- how we go about our business day by day. And responding is inevitable. The people in the parable didn’t have a choice as to whether or not they would be included. Their circumstances were thrust upon them. Their only decision was HOW they would respond. The same is true for us today.
A Word of Caution…
Many people in this world oppose the notion that Jesus would reign over them. This opposition is innate to American culture. Our country is founded on individual rights, independence, and democracy. If left unchallenged, these cultural values can shape even American “Christians” to resist the idea that Jesus reigns over them. While such people may be great fans of Jesus, they have no intention of Jesus reigning over their relationships, time, money, and priorities.
Many others aren’t so sure about things. They express a much more subtle denial of Jesus’ lordship. This group will undoubtedly be somewhat religious. They are, after all, playing it safe. If & when they do encounter Jesus, they don’t want to be exposed as enemies of his kingdom. But their lives aren’t shaped by a strong sense of anticipation, and they certainly don’t want to give up their time, money, and personal interests –- while potentially inviting the scorn and animosity of regular “citizens” –- by identifying too closely with Jesus and dedicating their lives to serving his purposes.
Finally, there are faithful servants who live in confident anticipation of the king’s return. He shapes their identity, and they willingly put their lives on the line in service of his kingdom even while its full manifestation is yet to be seen.
This is how Jesus saw things. This is how he wanted us to see things, too. This is the true human context. Like it or not, we’re all a part of this story. Inclusion is inevitable. The only real question: Who will we be? How will we emerge within God’s story?
And Jesus was clear: we’re already deciding. With every relationship. With our time and our money. We’re revealing our allegiance to the King and taking our places in his eternal kingdom.
(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)